Shantanu Deshpande

Should we work 24 hours a day?

Prioritize work for ‘18 hours a day for at least 4-5 years’, Bombay Shaving Company's CEO Shantanu Deshpande's advice to freshers attracted much criticism on social media with many questioning ‘how much is enough’

Should we work 24 hours a day?
Shantanu Deshpande, Founder and CEO of The Bombay Shaving Company

Kolkata: In a chillingly considerate message (deservedly viral), the founder of The Bombay Shaving Company Shantanu Deshpande recommended generously that six hours of personal time were indeed required. Or rather, young employees should work 18 hours a day unquestioningly serving the interests of the 'paymaster-land'. 

As a specimen of the Advertising industry, I am well familiar with such obsessive lines of thinking. Sadistic and desperate bosses were deeply prone to overworking their juniors as well as themselves, to prove amply that input levels were aptly comparable to the rigours of Kalapani. This did lead to the occasional out-of-turn promotion but such fiends were usually found out much before the slog overs, their careers invariably thwarted by the civility ceiling. 

In fact, most often, such characters across industries were direly deprived of personal lives or plainly preferred to deny the role of any. So when the dynamic new branch head of my erstwhile employer, migrating from Delhi, stoutly espoused the 8-hour day and 5-day week, most were duly stunned. Especially because this man turned out to be a dynamo at work, transforming the business with gusto, in spite of refusing to witness a solitary sunset at the workplace. 

Quite dramatically, the primacy of productivity over demonstration was established and that remained a learning and an inspiration, replicated by many worthies. Not to be confused with the slow-motion culture of nationalised banks, where the lunch hour had the potential to surpass working hours, especially if biryani (with extra egg) was on the table. As the years rolled, most realised that one was truly seeking a work-life 'equilibrium', 'balance' being a biased word as it assumes the tyranny of one over the other. 

Most notably, this equilibrium is entirely a matter of personal choice, more so today while partially exercised yesterday. Having hung around with senior doctors over decades, I now recognise this pattern. Some were so wedded to their discipline that the night was willed to be a hasty interlude, others chose to pursue parallel vocations in theatre or music, while yet others continuously complained about being overworked. An abiding influence was surely financial stability, the level of which would determine the horsepower of actionable opinion.  

In this digital age, the equilibrium has assumed newer dimensions as persuasive devices keep us connected nonstop to the universe, unlike the landline era. Real-time reactivity is an offshoot of service or tech service businesses, voluminous employers certainly, and this leads to an unavoidable imbroglio. Most fundamentally the populist narrative of the day is get-rich-quick, and tales from Silicon Valley and Bengaluru hill tracts are agog with success stories who sleep only in their nightmares and never consume a slow-cooked meal. 

Back to the worldview of choice as that is indeed an enigmatic variable, not entirely in our cognitive or emotive control. When compelled to pay mammoth EMIs or rising fuel bills, a dodgy job market may keep us locked into a perilous employer, especially those who offer fake long-term lucres. When bestowed with the wisdom and license of ambition, the endless workday can actually become aviation turbine fuel, a labour of love. When in a transit lounge between life stages, a change of gear may well be desired, one way or the other. 

But it all adds up to the work-life equilibrium, an increasingly troubled thesis at the onset of the 3-D metaverse where not just Seeta but Geeta will be alive. The definition of aspiration is confusing as the wealth versus happiness debate rages furiously, while basic financial stability remains a challenging ask. As a petty outcome, certain dubious fellows are taking full advantage of both technology and insecurity, bullying employees to be the party to the new age slave trade.

Thankfully, mental health warriors are coming to the Coliseum swiftly, as cases of depression and even suicide emanate from such bulldozer work cultures. One does anticipate that in this decade itself, we will witness the next generation of labour strictures, although this time for the affluent white collared brigade. Where lavish portions of the gig economy work culture, pay for performance, supersede the increasingly irrelevant fixed salary mindset. 

To the leader of the personal grooming entity requesting the 18-hour commitment, I just have one thing to say. It does take quality time to execute the perfect shave and that must be added to the six-hour reprieve.